Paolo Veronese (1528–1588) was regarded as something of a child prodigy, Veronese matured into one of the most famous masters of the late Italian Renaissance. The artist belongs to the Venetian School and, though he post-dates the period by a generation, he is often grouped with the glorious triumvirate of Titian, Tintoretto and Giorgione. Veronese came into his own however as a superb colourist and painter of the elegant and grandiose – in both theme and scale – of narratives that conveyed their meanings through rich and fluid colour schemes. The figures in his works are often described as having the subtle foreshortening of Correggio and Michelangelo‘s heroism and Veronese typically placed them against a painted architectural “stage” that was redolent of a city (Venice) that was (and still is) thought to resemble a magnificent living arena in its own right. Regardless of the often sacred nature of his subject matter – Veronese was himself a devout Catholic – his paintings would often exude the worldly, playful atmosphere of 16th-century Venice. Veronese was however a man of principled resilience. This was demonstrated in his defence of artistic freedoms when faced with condemnation from an executive Holy Office committee.
His most famous works are elaborate narrative cycles, executed in a dramatic and colourful style, full of majestic architectural settings and glittering pageantry. His large paintings of biblical feasts, crowded with figures, painted for the refectories of monasteries in Venice and Verona are especially famous, and he was also the leading Venetian painter of ceilings. Most of these works remain in situ, or at least in Venice, and his representation in most museums is mainly composed of smaller works such as portraits that do not always show him at his best or most typical.
Career- Philosophy, style of work
For most of his career, Veronese worked for patrons, religious and secular, in Venice and the Veneto. Among his important works are the full-scale decoration of the Venetian church of S. Sebastiano (1555–around 1570), his ceiling and wall paintings for the library of S. Marco (1556–57) and the Ducal Palace (the early 1550s and 1575–82), and his fresco decorations of the Villa Barbaro at Maser (around 1560), as well as a range of major altarpieces. From the 1560s onwards he also produced mythological pictures for an international clientele.
One of his specialities was large-scale scenes of feasts, and one of these, a Last Supper painted for a Dominican friar in 1573 (now in the Accademia in Venice), provoked the Inquisition because it included a wealth of what the inquisitors perceived to be irreverent detail. Veronese defended the painter’s right to ‘take the same licence as poets and jesters take’. He eventually changed the title to ‘Supper in the House of Levi’, rather than revise the painting itself. Veronese ran a large workshop, assisted by his brother Benedetto and his sons Gabriele and Carlo (or ‘Carletto’). They carried on in his studio after his death.
Veronese responded with singular felicity to the calm and peacefulness of Titian’s works and elaborated on these qualities in wonderful fresco compositions. His colour is never merely applied paint but brings to life the pale whiteness of the Palladian marble halls which are the stage for his works: the rich colour of splendid and elegantly appointed animals, the muted gleam of fine fabrics, and, above all, the blueness of the wide Venetian skies which frame his compositions and bestow on them a smiling beauty and infinite depth. He applied the paint thinly over broad areas with a delicate brushstroke. His drawings, often done in the wash on tinted paper, have a rich tonality of silvery greys and, though carefully executed, look almost spontaneous.
As it was, the linear methods of Mannerist painting, having been first introduced into northern Italy by Raphael’s pupil Giulio Romano (1499-1546) and followed up by Parmigianino (1503-40) in his experiments with rhythmic values, and by Titian in his study of the constructive role of colour, were presented to Veronese in the heterogeneous cultural climate of his birthplace, as so many complimentary choices. In this way, from his first works, which were possibly part of a systematic exploration of the various aspects of Mannerism, he purged it of all intellectual complication and enriched it with chromatic suggestions that demonstrated his growing mastery of colour theory in painting: see, for instance, The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors (1548, Castelvecchio, Verona), painted for the Bevilacqua-Lazise family; the allegorical fresco paintings (1551) in the Villa Soranzo near Castelfranco Veneto, completed in collaboration with Zelotti; and The Temptation of St Anthony (1552-3, Caen Museum).
Recognition after death.
According to the modernist critic Theophile Gautier, writing in 1860, Paolo Veronese was the greatest colourist who ever lived – greater even than Titian or Rubens – because he maintained a range of natural tones instead of the standard Academic-style method of dark and light. The famous 19th-century French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix put it simply when he said that Veronese made light without violent contrasts, and maintained the strength of hue in shadow. In any event, he delighted in detailing the finery of Venice’s leading citizens – his works are full of costumes in velvet and satin – and he employed a delicate palette in which pale blue, orange, silvery-white and lemon yellow predominate.
His prolific output was made possible through the establishment of a highly organized family studio, involving his brother Benedetto Caliari (1538-98), and sons Carlo (c.1567-96) and Gabriele (1568-1631). He had no significant pupils, But his influence, including his effect on the Venetian Baroque painting, surpassed the limits of generations and the frontiers of his city. For two centuries at least, many artists, including the very greatest, from Rubens (1577-1640) and Velazquez (1599-1660) to Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), found a source of inspiration in the richness and inexhaustible variety of Veronese’s work.